What was So Unusual About Michigan Mayor’s Will?

By: Nick Leydorf
estate planning and elder law attorney
Meet Nick Leydorf
My practice is dedicated to helping families get their affairs in order so that they can stay out of court and out of conflict. I’ve experienced first-hand how a lack of planning can have a terrible impact on a family. One morning, my wife received a phone call that her mother had been found unconscious in her bathroom and had been rushed to a local hospital. We panicked and drove to Grand Rapids as fast as we could to be with her. For two weeks, she never regained consciousness and she passed away. My wife and I were devastated.
Estate planning is an important, if unpleasant, part of life. It is suggested that people look at their plans at least once a year and update them when there are significant changes in life; such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or the birth of a child. The suggestion also works if there has been a fight within a family and the one leaving the estate would prefer to choose a new heir.

Michigander Wellington R. Burt is now best known for a codicil in this will that likely had no precedent back in 1919 when he died. The term mandated that his estate not be dispersed until 21 years after the last grandchild born in his lifetime died.

Newsbreak’s recent article, entitled “Former Saginaw mayor's unusual will contained unusual and spiteful clause,” explains that his children and grandchildren weren’t entirely cut out of the will. There were provisions that gave them a trust. Most received $1,000 annually from his estate, but his favorite son was given $30,000 a year. He also created a trust for some of his staff, leaving them between $3,000 and $4,000 a year. While he was a tough boss, most who worked for him said he was typically generous with pay and time off. However, his generosity seemed to stop with the staff. Reports described him as a domineering businessman who ruled with an iron fist at the office and home.

Serving as East Saginaw’s mayor in 1867 and 1868, Burt was born on Aug. 26, 1831, in Pike, New York. When he was seven, his family moved to Michigan.

He wasn’t a popular politician but had the money and clout to make things happen. In 1888, he attempted to reignite his political career by running for Governor. However, he was unsuccessful.

His children were considered successful by many of those who knew them, but Burt didn’t see things that way. He found the fact that his daughter was divorcing her husband disgraceful and threatened to disinherit her. She went through with the divorce, and he grew incensed.

This divided the family. Burt said that those who went against him would pay the price.

After he saw that his threats weren’t being taken seriously, he visited his attorneys. That’s when he added the "spiteful" clause in his will. It said that his fortune wouldn’t be fully distributed until 21 years after the death of his last grandchild.

That was Marion Lansill, who died in 1989. Her death started the 21-year countdown to the distribution of the estate.

In 2010, negotiations between lawyers were initiated as to the amount that each of the 12 eligible heirs would get.

This took just a few months, and by spring 2011, the money was dispersed.

Reference:  Newsbreak (Dec. 13, 2022) “Former Saginaw mayor's unusual will contained unusual and spiteful clause”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Inheritance, Probate Attorney

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